Monthly Archives: July 2008


Observatory 4
Cliffe Ruins TQ771714/ Moonrise 03.45

A colony of spiders inhabits the teazels beside the lagoon. My predatory friends are doing a good job of capturing the mosquitoes, if the large numbers of bodies stuck to their silky webs are any measure.

Cliffe Fever

Observatory 3
Cliffe Creek TQ 715769/ Moonrise 02.11

The mossies are gathering and getting ready to strike. In the north Kent marshes you can be unlucky and get the attention of a female Anopheles plumbeus, a type that can transmit malaria if it first bites an infected person and then feasts on you. As the climate camp assembles just across the river at Kingsnorth, it’s a reminder that global warming is leading scientists to predict a resurgence of the disease here in the low lying salt marshes of north Kent, where in the nineteenth century is was common and known as the ague.

Here in Cliffe there was a mini outbreak in 1918, when soldiers were returned to their barracks after being diagnosed with worrying symptoms in Thessaloniki. The men had been treated in Greece by a British Army doctor called Ronald Ross, who had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for demonstrating the role of Mosquitoes in the spread of malaria. He had made explicit the need for them to avoid regions in England where the anopheles atroparvus mosquito thrived. During the next twelve months 500 civilians living close to the Hoo peninsula were diagnosed with malaria.


Observatory 3
Cliffe Creek/ TQ 715769/ moonrise 01.02

It is 22.43 and just about high tide; a low neap of about 5.3 metres. Neaps coincide with the moon in its 1st and 3rd quarter and so around four thirty this morning I should be able to see a moon fitting this description dipping toward the eastern horizon. A good spring tide will reach 6.8 metres on the Medway when the waters, pulled by the gravity of sun and moon together, seem to ‘leap upward‘. The neaps conversely, as the old medieval word might imply, appear nipped or stemmed in their flow. There are many mosquitoes about, intent of a good deal of neaping too.


Observatory 3
Cliffe Creek TQ 715769/ Moonrise 00.11

In tented residence beside the seawall, in an area littered with small cinders and the many droppings of rabbits. Experimental scrapes evidence expanding colonisation of this immediate area. Every path and trail have burrows. I expect the rabbits will make an appearance sometime just ahead of sunrise to feed on the brambles, dock, thistles and sorrel that have also settled this unpromising ground.

Relative Scale

Observatory 2
Gravesend/ TQ655 745/ Moonrise none

The earth is full of textures and layers. Leaves from different seasons are mulched down in an organic progression to decay, and a universe exists within its compound seams. Beneath the lime tree, the dead bumble bee, poisoned by rich sugars in the nectar, returns to the earth it came from. Ants scurry, earwigs wiggle and the worms, after a hot dry day, have dug themselves deep. Apparent emptiness teems with life.

At the very smallest of scales ‘every atom is a glowing sun’ and each photon a moon.

Cover your Ears

Observatory 2
Gravesend/ TQ655 745/ Moonrise 23.37

When I was five, six earwigs began to rapidly crawl up my arm and disappeared into my T shirt causing huge panic. I knew from my mum that they were headed for my ears, where they would proceed to lay their eggs in my brain. Earwig is in fact derived from Old English, ēare “ear” and wicga, ‘insect’. They do seem predisposed to warm, dark, moist places and so on adult reflection, the ear canal could quite possibly have been their intended goal.

There is one glossy looking character scuttling around beneath the lime trees tonight. What rock or bit of bark near here does his family cluster beneath. How far does his universe extend?

Another Early Bird

Observatory 2
Gravesend/ TQ655 745 / Moonrise 22.55

Blackbirds jump suddenly into view on the monitor and start to peck and pull at the insects and berries. The fifteenth century inhabitants of the Milton Chantry where I sit observing, would have known these birds by the same name. Blackbirds have been the black birds since at least 1486. I wonder why this chap is honoured with the name and not the equally black rook, jackdaw, crow or raven – especially when Mrs B is more of a sooty brown? Of course, Mr B is not pure black. His bill and eye are that cadmium coloured yellow an artist might squeeze out from a tube. Is there such a thing as pure black? Even this night sky, is full of lights.

Early Birds

Observatory 2
Gravesend / TQ655 745 / Moonrise 22.55 / 67.5%

It is not quite dawn, but a very few early birds are about. A pair of collared doves tentatively walk along the path, a female blackbird briefly rests on a branch and a furtive looking moorhen hops into a nearby pool to turn over the abundant weed in search of breakfast.


Observatory 2 (Fort Gardens)
Gravesend / TQ655 745 / Moonrise 22.41 / 77.5%

Observatory 2 has two large lime trees in the immediate line of sight. Watching this location for the last three hours has been an exercise in patience. Nature has its own regularity and some events cannot be predicted or expected. The satisfaction is in a process of attentive watching. Light subtly changes in the moonlight, The fallen leaves get rustled by wind or by insects and the apparently still, is amazingly active, when a journey is slowed over time. Hurrying has no purpose.

In an apparent emptiness and in seeming inaction, there is much to be enjoyed and learnt when time is set aside; but I had hoped I might find another fox.

The Greatest

Observatory 1 (Bob the bailiff’s hut)
Gravesend / TQ655 745 / Moonrise 22.16 / 92.5%

Went on a reconnaissance of the quieter higher ground and away from the waterside gathering of nocturnal fishing folk. At eleven pm, it’s still a warm night and three small shadowy bats banked sharply in front of me. However, tonight must remain a night for the moon. As someone said to me recently, its ‘the greatest show off earth’.